The milkweed plant is a fragrant flower that blooms in the summer and hosts the magnificent Monarch butterfly. The magical flowers come in various shades and cluster on top of the plant’s strong stem. Its unique seed pod is shaped like a cucumber, with tiny bumps dotting its outer layer. When the pod opens, cotton-like silky floss is dispersed, scattering seeds everywhere.
Historically, the milkweed has been used as a natural remedy for warts, suppressing coughs and treating asthma. In fact, Milkweed was given the botanical name Asclepias after the Greek god of healing. Today, several species of the milkweed are still used medicinally by herbalists. Some milkweeds are even consumed as a traditional Native American food.
The milkweed’s silky floss can also be used as a fiber. It is lighter than goose down, and is an even better insulator; however, it is tedious to collect. It takes several hundred pods to yield a pound of floss! It was used for this purpose during World War II as stuffing for life jackets. Today, the fibers are blended with goose down for filling comforters, pillows and mattress enhancers by Ogallala Comfort.
In 2009, the pain relieving properties of milkweed oil were discovered and Milkweed Balm was added to the list of uses for the milkweed plant. Now, people from all over the world use naturally grown milkweed to soothe muscles and may help promote bone and joint health.
Perhaps the best use of the milkweed is its beauty and function in the garden. Find a cozy spot in the grass near milkweed in bloom and watch the butterflies lay their eggs. As the eggs hatch, you can witness beautifully striped caterpillars chomping on leaves. You may even be fortunate enough to see an adult monarch emerge from its chrysalis!
While some may be concerned about using milkweed to benefit people, the truth is, the more uses for milkweed, the better for monarchs and their migration. As the uses grow, so does the amount of milkweed, especially since it is a perennial that grows up from its roots every year and spreads. Milkweed is one plant that can benefit people, the ecosystem and help preserve the monarch migration for years into the future.